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Charles Darwin   (1809-1882)

"Probably all organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed ... There is grandeur in this view of life ... that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."
-- Charles Darwin   
The Origin of Species
 

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. He was the son of Robert Waring Darwin and his wife Susannah, the grandson of the scientist Erasmus Darwin and of the potter Josiah Wedgwood. His mother died when he was eight years old and he was brought up by his sister. He was taught classics at Shrewsbury, then sent to Edinburgh to study medicine, which he hated, and a final attempt at educating him was made by sending him to Christ's College, Cambridge, to study theology (1827). During that period he loved to collect plants, insects, and geological specimens, guided by his cousin William Darwin Fox, an entomologist. His scientific inclinations were encouraged by his botany professor, John Stevens Henslow, who was instrumental, despite heavy paternal opposition, in securing a place for Darwin as a naturalist on the surveying expedition of HMS Beagle to Patagonia (1831-6).
   
Under Captain Robert Fitzroy he visited Tenerife, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Montevideo, Tierra del Fuego, Buenos Aires, Valparaiso, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand and Tasmania. In the Keeling Islands he devised his theory of coral reefs. During this five-year expedition he obtained intimate knowledge of the fauna, flora and the geology of many lands, which equipped him for his later investigations. By 1846 he had published several works on the geological and zoological discoveries of his voyage -works that placed him at once in the front rank of scientists. He developed a friendship with Sir Charles Lyell, became secretary of the Geological Society (1838-41) and in 1839 married his cousin Emma Wedgewood (1808-96). 

From 1842 he lived at Down House, Downe, Kent, a country gentleman among his gardens, conservatories, pigeons and fowls. The practical knowledge he gained there, especially in variation and interbreeding, proved invaluable. Private means enabled him to devote himself to science, in spite of continuous ill-health: it was not realised until after his death that he had suffered from Chagas' disease, which he had contracted from an insect bite while in South America.    

At Down House he addressed himself to the great work of his life - the problem of the origin of species. After five years of collecting the evidence he began to speculate on the subject. In 1842 he drew up his observations in some short notes, expanded in 1844 into a sketch of conclusions for his own use. These embodied the principle of natural selection, the germ of the Darwinian Theory, but with typical caution he delayed publication of his hypothesis.    

However, in 1858 Alfred Russel Wallace sent him a memoir of the Malay Archipelago, which, to Darwin's surprise, contained in essence the main ideas of his own theory of natural selection. Lyell and Joseph Hooker persuaded him to submit a paper of his own, based on his 1844 sketch, which was read simultaneously with Wallace's before the Linnean Society in 1858. Neither Darwin nor Wallace was present on that historic occasion.

Darwin then set to work to condense his vast mass of notes and put into shape his great work, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published in 1859. This epoch-making work, received throughout Europe with the deepest interest, was violently attacked because it did not agree with the account of creation given in the Book of Genesis. But eventually it succeeded in obtaining recognition from almost all biologists.

Darwin continued to work at a series of supplemental treatises: The Fertilisation of Orchids (1862), The Variation of Plants and Animals under Domestication (1867), and The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), which postulated that the human race was derived from a hairy animal belonging to the great anthropoid group and was related to the progenitors of the orang-utan, chimpanzee and gorilla. In his 1871 work he also developed his important supplementary theory of sexual selection.

Later works include The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), Insectivorous Plants (1875), The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom (1876), Different Forms of Flowers in Plants of the Same Species (1877), and The Formations of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms (1881).    

Darwin died after a long illness, leaving eight children, several of whom achieved great distinction. Though not the sole originator of the evolution hypothesis, [see Alfred Russel Wallace] nor even the first to apply the concept of descent to plants and animals, he was the first thinker to gain for that theory a wide acceptance among biological experts. By adding to the crude evolutionism of Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck and others, his own specific idea of natural selection, Darwin supplied a sufficient cause, which raised it from a hypothesis to a verifiable theory.

Click on the logo below to visit the
Darwin Day web site

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Darwin Day Celebration Down Under for 2003

Darwin Day Celebration Down Under for 2004

Canberra Skeptics Darwin Day Address for 2005

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Darwin 200 (off site)
Nature News

"The 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin falls on 12 February 2009."

Darwin200 (off site)

Darwin Centre (off site)
London's Natural History Museum

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About Darwin (off site)

Boyhood and Edinburgh: Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, and Culver (off site)

Religious Belief (off site)

Quote from The Origin of Species Review

Celebrating Darwin's Birthday

Darwin the Disturber (off site)
Susan Jacoby
"Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, disturber of the peace, and this year also marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On The Origin of Species. It seems only fitting to reflect on the reasons why Darwin's conclusions about the origins and evolution of human--and all--life continue to trouble and challenge members of the human species in the 21st century."

Darwin Correspondence Project (off site)

Darwin's Precursors and Influences  (off site)
John Wilkins

The writings of Charles Darwin on the web (off site)

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online (off site)
"... the largest collection of Darwin's writings ever assembled".

The Pocket Darwin  (off site)
Susan Brassfield Cogan

Alfred Russel Wallace
(The co-founder, with Charles Darwin, of the Theory of Evolution)

How Darwin won the evolution race (off site)
"It's 150 years since Darwin made one of the the most significant breakthroughs in scientific history - the theory of natural selection. But if it hadn't been for a young ornithologist on the other side of the world, his seminal work might never have appeared. Robin McKie tells the extraordinary story behind The Origin of Species"

Robin McKie, The Observer, 22 June 2008

Darwin, Linnaeus, and One Sleepy Guy (off site)
Carl Zimmer
"Now, when we think about the magnificence of nature, the majesty of life that biologists seek to decipher, microbes may seem like minor stuff. Whats a bacterium next to a human being, or a blue whale, or a redwood? But if Im successful today, you will leave here convinced that microbes are in fact a very big deal. They dominate the history of life, and dominate the planet right now. And they force us to rethink the ideas weve inherited from Linnaeus and Darwin."

On line books by Charles Darwin

The Origin of Species
The Descent of Man
The Voyage of the Beagle

Click on the books link below to buy these and other fine books

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The Collective Works of Charles Darwin on CD-ROM  [off site]
"Lightbinders is proud to present the second edition of the Darwin CD-ROM. The collection features Darwin's classic works The Origin of Species (6th edition, 1872) and The Descent of Man (1871) as well as The Voyage of the Beagle (1845), The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) and The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs (1842)." and much more.  Follow the link to purchase this wonderfully informative CD-ROM.